Over the past seven months, Vicki Le Poidevin has suffered with extreme abdominal pain and bleeding. Initial tests showed signs of inflammation. Naturally, she is scared about the cause of her symptoms. Flare ups have led to time off work. But there is still no prospect any time soon of the island's health service providing Vicki with the appointment she desperately needs with a specialist gastroenterologist.
"The reality of having to wait to be seen and have investigations is causing me and my family a lot of stress and undue upset," said Vicki. "I'm sick of being sick. I'm unhappy with the symptoms I'm experiencing and not knowing if they're something sinister or not.
"I'm deeply concerned. Whilst I'm 'too young' for cancer, in my experience it doesn't have an age range, and it's scary. I know there are people living with worse symptoms than me who are suffering in silence and it’s just awful."
Pictured: Vicki with her family, who have supported her through months of pain, bleeding and other symptoms while she has been among hundreds of people on lengthy waiting lists for gastroenterology appointments and procedures.
Express revealed yesterday that around four out of every ten patients are waiting longer than six months for a procedure or appointment they need with a gastroenterologist at the Medical Specialist Group [MSG].
Only one in five patients is being seen within eight weeks – the waiting time expected under the States' secondary health insurance scheme.
Hundreds of patients are affected: 75 patients have been waiting longer than six months for an appointment, 159 have been waiting longer than six months for a procedure or operation, and more than 300 others have been waiting between eight weeks and six months.
Waiting times are almost as long for cardiology appointments – where six out of ten patients are waiting longer than the eight weeks they should be and three out of ten are waiting longer than six months – though in-patient cardiology procedures are less affected.
The Committee for Health & Social Care, which is responsible for secondary healthcare, said waiting times were down to increased demand, lack of specialist staff and disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
Pictured: The Committee for Health & Social Care (inset) blames covid-19, demand for services and staff shortages for the lengthy waiting lists affecting gastroenterology at the Medical Specialist Group (right) and the States' Princess Elizabeth Hospital (left).
Vicki's symptoms started in March. She has suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for years but said this time "things seemed different".
"I went to the GP in April. I was bleeding and the pain was unbelievable. I would be laying on the floor in the toilets at work.
"My GP has been brilliant and ordered various bloods, an ultrasound and stool samples. A stool sample showed a high count of calprotectin, which shows there is inflammation.
"I was advised that my referral to the MSG would go off straight away but due to the current circumstances I wouldn’t be seen for around three to four weeks, according to my GP. However, I contacted the MSG three times and was told three different answers about when I would get an appointment. One…just sharply said 'nope, you won’t be seen for at least a year, and you’re better going off island'.
"From the date of the referral to now, it's nearing 18 weeks since the referral was done" – ten weeks longer than the expected time under the States' scheme. Vicki has no indication of being seen soon and now knows that more than 500 patients are in a similar position to her and that more than 200 of them have been on the waiting list for more than six months.
"I have active symptoms almost daily and have recently had a flare up which meant being signed off work. I don't want to live in pain and feel awful all the time."
Pictured: Vicki's pain has been so severe at times that she has ended up laid out on the toilet floor at work or barely able to get off the sofa at home.
"I feel nervous all the time in case my tummy flares up. I need to know where the loo is everywhere I go," said Vicki. "I have no idea what sets off my stomach so I'm constantly on edge and having to wait such a long time is adding to the stress.
"I've been losing my hair and having eye problems since being poorly and that is another stress that I'm scared about. Not even being able to speak to someone or see someone other than my GP isn't ideal. My GP and her PA have been absolutely fantastic and I know I can rely on them, but there’s only so much they can do.
"I have an eight-year-old little boy and I hate saying that I can't play or go out on our bikes because my stomach has kicked off. I'm on painkillers to help ease the pain. I'm laid up on the settee. I'm uncomfortable daily at work and at home. I'm worried every time I eat something, in case it sets me off.
"Thankfully, my husband is massively supportive and helps with everything, but I feel guilty that when I'm laid up it's all on him, and it shouldn't be that way.
"I should be having support from our only specialist centre, not being fobbed off…[t]he comment that really annoyed me was 'don’t call us asking for when you're going to get an appointment'. Of course people are going to call – we are worried, scared and in pain."
Pictured: Waiting lists for gastroenterology and cardiology as at 31 October.
Gastroenterology includes gastroscopy, which involves a camera being swallowed to inspect the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, and colonoscopy, in which a camera is inserted into the anus to examine the colon.
They are considered the key investigative and diagnostic procedures for gastrointestinal cancers, which are among the most frequent cancers with relatively high mortality rates unless detected in the earliest stages.
It is understood that repeated failure to meet contracted waiting times and leaving patients months without having appointments or procedures they need is causing serious concern in the island's medical community.
The Committee said that "all more urgent referrals have been dealt with" by the MSG, which provides secondary care under a contract signed with the States in 2018.
But gastroenterology patients waiting for an in-patient procedure or operation currently have only a one in ten chance of being seen within eight weeks. More than half are waiting longer than six months.
Gastroenterology patients waiting for an out-patient appointment have little more than a three in ten chance of being seen within eight weeks. Nearly one in five is waiting longer than six months.
Pictured: A patient having an endoscopic examination, a key procedure in early diagnosis of potentially serious gastrointestinal disease for which waiting lists are currently up to a year despite the States-MSG secondary healthcare contract setting out an expected waiting time of eight weeks.
Vicki is in such discomfort and pain, so worried about the causes of it and so alarmed about the length of the island’s waiting list that she recently decided to book a private appointment with a specialist in the UK.
"After being told by the MSG that I'd be quicker off island, I had another consultation with my GP, and she wrote to the lady I am now under the care of in the UK. Within a week of them receiving the referral, I was in the UK seeing her...I've been left no choice but to seek treatment away as I refuse to live like this any longer."
Vicki appreciates that many of the hundreds of people left for months on waiting lists for essential appointments or procedures are unable to surmount them with private appointments off island.
"I can have the procedure in Guernsey, but when – in six months or a year? These are people's lives. Urgent cases should have been sent off island, paid for by the MSG or the States, as it is their duty of care to the patient that the patient is seen and fixed."
Pictured: The Committee for Health & Social Care said there is an acute shortage of consultant gastroenterologists in the UK, which is making it extremely difficult for the Medical Specialist Group to attract permanent or locum replacements for two consultant gastroenterologists who left earlier this year, including Dr Hamish Duncan, above, who retired after many years working in Guernsey.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.
There are no comments for this article.